HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai, an outspoken critic of Beijing, has stepped down as publisher of the popular Apple Daily after being arrested for refusing to leave a key pro-democracy protest site in the center of the city.
Hong Kong police arrested nearly 250 activists on Thursday and cleared most of the main protest site near the Central business district, marking an end to more than two months of street demonstrations in the Chinese-controlled city.
Public broadcaster RTHK said on Friday all of those arrested, including Lai, had been released.
Lai, a self-made millionaire, has been the main financial patron of the pro-democracy movement since Hong Kong’s 1997 handover to Communist Party rulers in China.
“Jimmy Lai was taken away around 5 pm (on Thursday). Jimmy Lai also resigned as editor-in-chief of Apple Daily, and Next Media’s Print Media CEO Ip Yut-kin will succeed (him),” a video clip shown on Apple Daily’s website said.
A company official later said it would revise the video to correct his title to publisher.
Next Media Ltd publishes Next Magazine and the pro-democracy Apple Daily tabloid newspaper.
Lai has come under the scrutiny of Hong Kong’s anti-graft agency this year. In August, agency officers raided his home, and the following month he went to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). It is common for the agency to call in individuals for questioning as part of its investigations.
Police reopened the multi-lane highway in downtown Admiralty district on Thursday night after clearing the main protest site, ending one of the most serious challenges to China’s authority since the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations and bloody crackdown in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Frustrated retailers whose takings have been badly hit by the protests welcomed the resumption of business.
“I‘m glad it’s over, I can take a breather,” said 60-year-old Sammy Wu who owns a tailor shop in a plaza adjacent to the main protest site near the city’s administrative headquarters.
“Our business fell 50 percent during the occupy period. Now I expect the sales can be up by 20 percent as compared with last month.”
Mainland tourists had shunned Hong Kong, a renowned shoppers’ paradise, with tours dropping by up to 30 percent during the tense standoff between pro-democracy activists and the city’s police force.
Protesters set up camp on the main road in the Admiralty district in September, locking down the area and causing traffic chaos.
On Friday, taxi, buses and lorries were seen driving down the main thoroughfares, past government buildings and the city’s PLA headquarters, where thousands of brightly colored tents and large scale art installations had been dotted.
(This version of the story corrects Lai’s title)
Additional reporting by Lizzie Ko; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Jeremy Laurence